italicissima is dedicated to real Italian language as it appears in contemporary literature. Here you’ll find a monthly post on a novel of literary and linguistic interest and, whenever possible, a language-themed interview with the author. What you won’t find are books written exclusively in standard Italian (i.e., the language of textbooks and classical literature), especially the ones they teach you in school.
As an ex-instructor of Italian, I often get asked to recommend grammar books for students at all levels of learning. My favorites tend to be those that contain information about authentic Italian language; in other words, the ways in which Italian is really used in speech and in writing.
John Kinder and Vincenzo Savini’s Using Italian: A Guide to Contemporary Usage (Cambridge, 2004) is one of the best examples of this type of text. Besides providing a concise review of Italian grammar, this book presents a fascinating overview of how standard Italian has evolved and interacted with the many dialects of Italy since its adoption as the national language in 1868, as well as analyses of the varieties of Italian and differences in register with respect to region and form (written or spoken).
Some of the more interesting aspects of Using Italian involve the analyses of regional variation in lexical items and the so-called falsi amici (false friends), i.e., Italian words that look similar to English terms but have different meanings (sometimes radically so!). But the most entertaining part of the text is the spellings of animal and other noises.
English Meaning North Center South
bad luck sfiga scalogna, scarogna jella, iella
chair sedia seggiola sedia
cheese formaggio cacio cacio
melon melone poppone mellone
nice carino belluccio caruccio
Falso Amico English Meaning English Cognate Italian Meaning
attico penthouse attic soffitta
contento happy content soddisfatto
lussuria lust luxury lusso
retribuzione remuneration retribution castigo, punizione
triviale vulgar, obscene trivial banale, futile
Animal Verb Noun Noise
asino (donkey) ragliare raglio hi-ho; i-o
gallo (rooster) cantare canto chicchirichì
gatto (cat) miagolare miagolìo miao
mucca, vacca (cow) muggire muggito muu
topo (mouse) squittire squittìo squit-squit
Source Verb Noun Noise
arma da fuoco (firearm) sparare sparo pim, pam
campana (large bell) scampanare scampanìo din don
campanello (small bell) scampanellare scampanellìo drin, drindrin
orologio (clock, watch) ticchettare ticchettìo tic-tac
telefono (telephone) suonare, trillare suono, trillo drin, dring